FANTASTIC FEST 2011
By Don Simpson | September 28, 2011
Director: Justin Kurzel
Writer: Justin Kurzel, Shaun Grant
Starring: Daniel Henshall, Lucas Pittaway, Louise Harris, Craig Coyne, Richard Green, Anthony Groves, David Walker, Brendan Rock
Sixteen-year-old Jamie (Lucas Pittaway) lives with his single mother, Elizabeth (Louise Harris), and two younger brothers in Adelaide’s severely disenfranchised northern suburbs. On one fateful day, Elizabeth brings home a new boyfriend, John (Daniel Henshall). Jamie instantly connects with John, discovering the father-figure he has always desired. John seems like a nice enough guy and he provides Jamie’s entire family with a stability and sense of family that they have never known.
Eventually, though, John chooses to indoctrinate Jamie into his self-righteous world of bigotry and malice. An ultra-conservative redneck vigilante, John has made it his life’s mission to rid the world of unacceptable behavior. John assembles a consortium of like-minded townspeople to assist him with compiling a target list of anyone who is rumored to be a child molester, drug addict, gay, obese, or otherwise deemed abnormal.
Jamie begins to tag along with John’s gang of simpletons as they capture, torture and murder their prey; seemingly by osmosis, Jamie begins to take on some of John’s personality and philosophy. All the while, Jamie retains enough reason to be uncomfortable with the killings and some of John’s motivations; but loyalty and fear cause him to continue down the downward spiral of senseless bloody mayhem.
For being about Australia’s most notorious serial killer — John Bunting — Snowtown is a surprisingly restrained and contemplative film. True, it does delve quite graphically into the very darkest recesses of brutality; but rather than showcasing (glorifying) violence in order to merely shock and awe the audience, writer-director Justin Kurzel is much more interested in coercing the audience to relate to Jamie and therefore sympathize with him. We are wooed by John just as Jamie is. It is difficult not to believe, at least at first, that John means well; that he is merely trying to protect Jamie’s family. Early on, his logic almost seems reasonable; but that is only because John gently eases us in.
Their town has a warped sense of justice, it is a place where pedophiles seem to get out on bail soon after their arrest. What is wrong with John and the boys motivating one specific pedophile to relocate out of town? Of course this — and most of the film — relies on the audience’s belief of Jamie’s accusations. Kurzel certainly reveals no doubts in Jamie’s version of the story, but that does not mean it is accurate. For that very reason, I recommend approaching Snowtown with an open mind. Remember that this is a very specific perspective of John Bunting’s story — whether or not you believe it is totally up to you.